STATEMENT OF JOHN J. REYNOLDS, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, PACIFIC WEST REGION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 941, THE RANCHO CORRAL de TIERRA GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL RECREATION AREA BOUNDARY ADJUSTMENT ACT OF 2001.
July 26, 2001
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 941, a bill to revise the boundaries of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and to extend the term of the advisory commission for the recreation area.
The Department of the Interior supports S. 941. The addition of these lands will preserve exceptional natural, scenic and recreational resources displaying values commensurate with or exceeding those of the lands currently within the boundary of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In addition, these properties, if added to the park, will provide it with a logical and understandable southern boundary, which is currently lacking.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area was established in 1972 by Public Law 92-589 ". . . to preserve for public use and enjoyment certain areas of Marin and San Francisco Counties . . ." and has since been expanded to include lands within San Mateo County. Located at the center of a major metropolitan area of more than 5 million people, a major factor in Golden Gate's significance is its ability to provide national park experiences to unprecedented numbers of local, regional, national, and international visitors.
In 1980, Congress passed legislation that expanded the boundaries of Golden Gate National Recreation Area to include substantial areas of San Mateo County. The legislation was engendered by a proposal to develop the 1,100-acre property known as Sweeney Ridge, which included the presumed location of the first European siting of San Francisco Bay in 1769. In order to minimize the cost of the project and to keep the focus on the development threat, the legislation limited the inclusion of private land strictly to the Sweeney Ridge property. The outcome was somewhat of a patchwork, leaving out significant privately owned open space and natural resources and creating a boundary that is difficult to recognize and manage in the field.
S. 941 would add lands to the recreation area known as the Rancho Corral de Tierra and the Devil's Slide area. The Corral de Tierra property includes approximately 4,262 acres and contains the headwaters and most of the watershed of the four major coastal stream systems, providing riparian habitat for a number of threatened and endangered animal species, and a scenic backdrop that visually distinguishes the San Mateo mid-coast region. The peaks of Montara Mountain rise to more than 1,800 feet just two miles from the water's edge, providing some of the most spectacular panoramic views to be found in northern California. The property has recently been acquired by the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), and is being held in anticipation of being included within the boundaries of the recreation area.
In addition to the Corral de Tierra property, S. 941 would also include within the boundaries of the recreation area lands in the area known as the Devil's Slide. These lands, comprising approximately 500 acres, are associated with plans by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to reroute Highway 1 through a new tunnel that is to be constructed in the area. When the tunnel project is complete, the existing surface road will be abandoned, thereby severing access to several properties in the Devil's Slide area. In the way of mitigation, it is expected that Caltrans will purchase the properties from the current owners to be dedicated as permanent open space. The existing roadbed will be donated by Caltrans for use as a trail. Inclusion of these lands within the boundaries of the recreation area will allow for their conveyance to the National Park Service. Also included in this addition is a Caltrans right-of-way which was purchased for the construction of a highway over Montara Mountain. Since Caltrans will be constructing a tunnel instead, the right-of-way is surplus to Caltrans' needs. This property divides the larger Corral de Tierra parcel included in this legislation, and thus is important for connecting these two parcels and ensuring contiguous open space.
These proposed additions to the recreation area are in accordance with a recent boundary study conducted by POST in consultation with National Park Service staff. The study found that these properties meet the criteria established by the National Park Service for addition of land to units of the National Park System. In this case, these lands represent an unparalleled opportunity to include within the recreation area lands of exceptional natural, scenic, and recreational value. The properties include many old trails and farm roads that could be easily adapted to recreational use, which may become the principal visitor activity within the area. In addition, these lands will be of great value through their role in protecting important wildlife habitat and maintaining the integrity of scenic views. There are several options under consideration for the long-term stewardship of these lands, including partnership arrangements involving the National Park Service, California State Parks, and POST.
As you know, the Department is committed to the President’s priority of eliminating the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog. We are also concerned about the development and life cycle operational costs associated with expansion of parks already included in the National Park System. With that in mind, we expect that the costs of acquiring the Corral de Tierra property would be shared between the federal government, the State of California, and private donations raised by POST, who acquired these lands in the Spring of 2001 for $29.7 million. It is anticipated that the Federal portion of the acquisition cost will be $15 million with the remaining costs contributed locally by California State Parks and POST. Funds to purchase this property would be subject to NPS service-wide priorities and the availability of appropriations.
The Devil’s Slide parcels, associated with the Caltrans project, would be acquired only through donation.
Since protection of these lands will be through a partnership with California State Parks and POST, it is anticipated that the National Park Service will only be responsible for a portion of the operating costs. The life cycle costs of maintaining these additions will be moderate, as these lands contain few buildings or structures and we do not anticipate major development of facilities. These lands will be used for low impact recreation, such as hiking and biking. Therefore, we anticipate most of the future upkeep of these lands will include trail and fire road maintenance, minimal new trail construction, trail signage and resource protection. These costs will be leveraged with funding from the private sector.
Although GGNRA’s general management plan does not address these areas, it is anticipated that these land will be less heavily impacted than other areas of the park, such as Marin Headlands and Muir Woods. Adding to that the steepness of the terrain, recreation will be confined to the lower portions of the land.
S. 941 also extends the term of the advisory commission for the recreation area until December 31, 2022. The advisory commission was established by the same law that created the recreation area and serves to provide for the free exchange of ideas between the National Park Service and the public. The law provided a 30-year term for the commission, which expires on December 31, 2002. S. 941 extends the term for another 20 years.
That concludes my testimony. I would be glad to answer any questions that you or the members of the subcommittee may have.